President Donald Trump included a pledge to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in his State of the Union speech, but campaigners cautioned against empty words.

The president has largely avoided the issue of HIV/AIDS across his first two years in office, dissolving the Office of National AIDS Policy and dismissing the entirety of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in 2017.

In State of the Union speech, Trump pledges to boost HIV funding

However, in his State of the Union speech to Congress on Tuesday (February 5), Trump pledged to boost funding to take it on directly.

He said: “No force in history has done more to advance the human condition than American freedom. In recent years we have made remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

“Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once-distant dream within reach.

“My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.

“Together, we will defeat AIDS in America.”

President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Zach Gibson/Getty)

The speech did not include any other reference to LGBT+ issues, although several transgender soldiers were in attendance, invited by Democratic lawmakers protesting Trump’s military ban.

The commitment comes despite previous concerns over extreme cuts to HIV/AIDS funding proposed within the Trump administration.

Trump has previously come under fire for inflammatory rhetoric around HIV/AIDS, claiming in a 1997 interview that he would force the late Princess Diana to take an HIV test before having sex with her.

HIV infections “highly concentrated among men having sex with men,” Trump administration warns

Although Trump failed to mention the need to reach out to minority communities in his State of the Union speech, a plan released by the Department of Health and Human Services to coincide with the speech states: “New infections are highly concentrated among men having sex with men; minorities, especially African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians and Alaska Natives; and those who live in the southern United States.”

The plan pledges to battle stigma towards HIV infections, and “rapidly to detect and respond to growing HIV clusters” in under-served communities.

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Health Secretary Alex Azar responded: “Americans heard tonight how serious President Trump is about improving the quality and affordability of healthcare.

“In addition to maintaining a strong commitment to confronting the opioid epidemic and proposing a new dedicated initiative to tackle childhood cancer, the President announced his Administration’s goal to end the HIV epidemic in America within 10 years, and asked Republicans and Democrats to also make this commitment.”

HIV campaigners say State of the Union speech ignored “hard facts”

However, campaigners were more sceptical of the pledge.

Asia Russell of HIV charity Health GAP said: “This pledge must be contrasted with the hard facts.

“As President, Trump’s policies have fanned the flames of the HIV epidemic in the United States and around the world—from working to cut life-saving HIV treatment and prevention funding for the global AIDS response, to undermining Medicaid expansion to promoting homophobia, and obstructing efforts to slash the price of medicines.”

Sarah Kate Ellis of GLAAD said: “President Trump once again presented a broad strokes narrative that people with HIV and AIDS, including LGBTQ Americans, simply can’t trust.

“Before tonight’s address, Trump has slashed funding for HIV and AIDS research, shuttered research clinics, and fired the White House Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS – stalling the hard-fought effort to find a cure.

“The only way our world could end HIV transmissions and prioritise proper treatment and prevention is through an exhaustive, across-the-board investment, but President Trump’s words do not back up his administration’s actions. “

Speaker Nancy Pelosi added: “The President’s call for ending HIV transmission in America is interesting, but if he is serious about ending the HIV/AIDS crisis, he must end his assault on health care and the dignity of the LGBTQ community.”

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